If you’ve ever read any of my random musings on my “dream design”, you may recall running across references to “Awareness” scores in one form or another.  One of the challenges I was fighting with (prior to getting buried at the office) was how to effectively convey the needed information about Awareness to the player in order to make it a viable and interesting part of the design.

Fundamentals

In Voyages, the Awareness score is an objective mechanism meant to measure whether the character detects various potential events/stimuli, and in what level of detail.  Prevalent examples of situations in existing games/systems that would be analogous might be things like trap detection, secret door detection, listening at doors, detecting hidden/invisible opponents, etc.  In Voyages, the intent was to take the concept to a finer level of detail than is usually offered, and give increased control to the player.

In essence, the player is asked to monitor and control up to two related Awareness scores: a “general” score and a “focus” score.  The “focus” score applies to whatever specific stimuli the player indicates the character is focusing on: selecting a trap detection technique, for example, would tie the “focus” score to that endeavor, leaving all other stimuli to be compared to the (usually lower) general score instead.

On the other side of the coin, every stimuli is assigned two threshhold ratings: a “detection” rating and a higher “recognition” rating.  If the character’s current Awareness exceeds the “detection” rating, the player is notified of the stimuli in general terms (“You hear someone speaking quietly nearby.”)  If the “recognition” rating is exceeded, far greater detail is offered, potentially limited by other knowledge/skills (“You hear a guttural male voice whispering in Orcish, about 40 feet to your left.”)

The intent is to tie this system in to nearly all aspects of the game.  For example, attacks in combat include detection and recognition threshholds: an attack must be detected to defend against it, and recognition offers the additional detail of whether the attack will miss despite lack of defensive action.

Interface Issue

The question I’ve been worrying away at for a while is, how best to offer sufficient feedback to the player such that the Awareness mechanic is a viable part of the gameplay?

I wanted to try to avoid using simple status bars, if possible.  One idea I was playing around with briefly was the following:

combinedawarenesscircles.png

The larger golden circle representing general Awareness, the smaller overlapping golden circle representing focused Awareness.  The blue filled circles would represent current score, expanding and contracting based on the character’s actions.  Each stimuli would generate the two “open rings” demonstrated in each display (the inner ring being detection, outer ring being recognition), popping in as the stimuli occurred and fading away over a second or two.

In action, it kind of gives off a “radar/sonar” kind of vibe, which seems appropos.

However, plenty of problems as well.  Problems with the idea include:

  • There can be multiple nearly simultaneous stimuli; displaying 2 rings for each could easily lead to confusion with relatively few events;
  • Even with the overlap, this takes up a lot of real estate on the screen: the example is 100×100 pixels;
  • There is no obvious way to express changes of scale: a buff that increases potential Awareness significantly, for example, might be difficult to indicate to the player;
  • The number of “steps” in value that can be effectively indicated is small (relative to the screen real estate consumed, at least).  The larger circle is 80×80, and really only can express 40 discrete “steps” in value as proposed.

One alternative I started to play with was using the same base concept, but using “barbell” lines to indicate stimuli, which would essentially radiate outward from near the center to near the edge, somewhat like hands on a clock.  That would increase the number of stimuli that could be displayed simultaneously… if the lines were separated by 22.5 degrees (out of 360, of course), that would give room to display 16 at once (12 if you cut out the overlapped area…)

Anyway, I’m kind of casting about for some original ideas here.  Anyone got anything?

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